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A few weekends ago we had a three day getaway to the Northern Rivers fishing village of Iluka, located on the Clarence River in New South Wales. This sleepy little hamlet is popular with fisherman and holidaymakers, with three caravan parks in town and a camping ground located just out of town at Woody Head. It also offers some beautiful pristine beaches and the Bundjalung National Park that has many opportunities for beach walking, fishing and mountain biking. One of the must do things when staying in Iluka is catching the ferry from Iluka to Yamba that is located on the opposite side of the wide mouth of the Clarence River.
For more information on Iluka read my previous blog post titled The Sleepy Village of Iluka.
The mighty Clarence River journeys for 394 kilometres through the city of Grafton, and the towns of Ulmarra, and Maclean, and reaches its mouth to the Coral Sea between Iluka and Yamba. It features many large river islands and a Nature Reserve. The river supports a large prawn trawling and fishing industry that is evidenced in the large number of fishing boats that are moored in the river harbours.
Boating and sailing enthusiasts flock to either town to launch their boats into the river and its also popular with kayakers. For bird watchers the river is prolific with many species of birds and water birds like pelicans, cormorants, ducks, ibis, heron, spoonbills and egrets. Birds of prey such as wedge-tail eagles and osprey soar above the river.
The most direct and quickest way to go from Iluka to Yamba is by river ferry. The ferry departs from the jetty at the Iluka Boatshed and Marina in Charles Street (the main street) and drops you at the river end of River Street in Yamba, which is only a short stroll into town.
It crosses the river four times a day seven days a week, (plus an extra crossing on certain days of the week). The fare is $8.90 per adult one way or $4.50 per pensioner/child one way. Children under 5 years are free of charge. For more information head to Clarence River Ferries.
The ferry travels east past the caravan park and boat harbour and then makes a right hand turn in a gap of the training wall, and then heads back down the river around an island prior to entering Yamba harbour. It’s a great opportunity to witness plenty of birdlife on the river and also see playful dolphins that chase the ferry jumping out of the water.
The ferry is also dog friendly (at no charge) so you can bring your pooch along for the ride!
I guess you would say that Yamba is probably the more popular holiday town of the two towns. Whilst Iluka is completely laid-back and chilled, it may not appeal to holidaymakers that are looking for more things to do rather than just fish, swim or surf. Yamba has more to offer than just great surfing beaches and riverside location. It boasts a vibrant mix of award-winning restaurants, funky cafes and boutique shopping, plus it has a wide range of accommodation. It’s an extremely popular holiday town for families and couples alike.
Yamba has three caravan parks that have powered and unpowered caravan or camping sites, and also cabins that are available to rent. The Calypso Yamba Holiday Park, Blue Dolphin Holiday Resort and the Big4 Saltwater at Yamba Holiday Park, are all located on the Clarence River with the Calypso being the closest into town and beaches.
There is a range of other accommodation options, including resorts, hotels, holiday units and houses for rent. BOOK YOUR YAMBA ACCOMMODATION HERE.
Once you disembark from the ferry there is a big signpost with a map of Yamba showing the best walking tracks and points of interest around Yamba. We headed east on a path towards the river mouth, past Hickey Island towards Turners Beach that is adjoined by the rocky headland of Clarence Head and Pilot Hill where the Yamba Lighthouse is located.
Turner’s Beach is one of most popular swimming and surfing beaches in Yamba, wedged between the southern Clarence River entrance wall and Clarence Head. This sheltered beach break has very consistent waves and is patrolled by lifeguards during the summer season.
There is a path and steps from the Turner’s Beach leading up to the lighthouse or you can do what we did and continue straight ahead to clamber up the rocks to the headland. Here the views are stunning.
Otherwise you can stroll out on the breakwall for some distance and maybe throw a line in and see if you can catch a fish.
We probably were a little foolish as we accessed the lighthouse from the rocks at Clarence Head rather than walk back to the path and steps. We jumped over a short fence, where there was a well worn path up to the lighthouse, so I’m sure we weren’t the first people to disobey the warning signs!
The present lighthouse was built in 1955 on Pilot Hill and offers stunning views of the Clarence River Mouth and coastline. The grassy grounds surrounding the lighthouse are perfect for a picnic or just to sit and absorb the lovely views. The first lighthouse built in 1866 was replicated by the local community in 1980 and is located near the new lighthouse.
Another icon of Yamba is the Pacific Hotel, built in 1934, and taking pride of place perched above Main Beach with the most magnificent views. It’s an absolute necessity to enjoy a cold beverage at this “best-sited hotel in Australia” and soak in the panorama.
From the lighthouse and past the Pacific Pub we walked down towards the parklands that are above Yamba’s Main Beach. This beach is nestled into a bay and is perfect for swimming and surfing. However if the waves are too much you can swim in the ocean pool built into the rocks at the southern end of the beach. On the day we were here they were pumping the seawater out of the pool either for cleaning or maintenance.
In 1908 the Yamba Surf Lifesaving Club was formed and is one of the oldest surf clubs in the world, and it still sits on the beach proudly. The beach is patrolled on weekends and during school holidays between September and Easter.
If you venture further south you will discover Convent Beach and South Head Park. Crossing the park takes you to Pippi Beach, Yamba’s longest and most exposed stretch of sand.
After we spent some time wandering around the beaches of Yamba we decided it was time for a coffee so we headed into the town centre. Here we found a well-serviced town with absolutely everything you need from a supermarket to a cinema. Trendy cafes, boutiques and souvenir shops line the main street and although we were there during the off-season and on a weekday there were plenty of people seated at the pavement cafes sipping on cappuccinos in the sunshine.
The Yamba River Markets take place on the fourth Sunday of each month located at Ford Park on the foreshores of the scenic Clarence River. Play a round of golf at the Yamba Golf and Country Club. Also make sure you visit the Clarence River Fisherman’s Co-operative for a feed of famous Yamba King Prawns.
For history buffs visit the Yamba Museum in River Street near the centre of town, that focuses on the settlement of Yamba and its strong maritime history. The collection includes objects that highlight the diversity of Yamba’s history from memorabilia, photographic displays to artefacts.
After a few hours wandering around Yamba we made our way back to Iluka on the river ferry. I highly recommend making this ferry trip next time you’re staying in either Iluka or Yamba.
Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 6 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now in her early 60s. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Kathy enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, photography, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.
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JoAugust 28, 2019
Catching the ferry from Iluka to Yamba looks like just the sort of thing Dave and I would love to do. Dolphins frolicking in the Clarence River and those beautiful views and a sunset to boot. I so want to explore more of this part of Australia – the beaches look fabulous too, and the Yamba Museum would be on my list too as I love learning about settlement history and hearing stories of old. #shared
KathyAugust 28, 2019
You would love this part of the North Coast of New South Wales. There are so many rivers and beautiful beaches along the coastal strip. We’ve spent a good deal of our time exploring this wonderful part of Australia.
PetaSeptember 20, 2019
Thank you for your post. It has helped me decide whether to stay in Iluka or Yamba. I will be sure to take a ride on the ferry to see all the wildlife.
KathyOctober 3, 2019
You’re very welcome. Both towns are fantastic for a relaxing holiday and the ferry ride is a must do.